About four hours after Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was released from prison on June 17 morning, he joined protesters gathered near the city’s legislature calling for the full withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill.
Wong, 22, was the public face of the 2014 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella Movement.
On June 17, he was released early from the Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute, having served roughly a month of his two-month sentence on charges related to his leading role in the 2014 protests.
It is not unusual for prisoners to be released early for good behavior, according to local media.
Return to Activism
As he stepped out of the facility, he was approached by a throng of media reporters.
“I will fight shoulder to shoulder with the Hong Kong people to oppose the evil extradition bill,” Wong told media. “Carrie Lam no longer qualifies to be the chief executive [the city’s top official] of Hong Kong people, and she must step down to take responsibility.”
Wong added: “We are telling the entire world, that even after our setback in the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong people will never succumb to totalitarianism.”
The extradition bill, which would allow any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of criminal suspects, has drawn widespread opposition. Locals say that given the Chinese regime’s disregard for rule of law, the proposal could allow China to punish its critics on trumped-up charges.
Over the weekend, following widespread outcry against local police use of force in earlier protests, Lam announced that the bill would be suspended indefinitely.
But Hong Kongers were not satisfied. Nearly two million took to the streets on Sunday to call for the bill’s full withdrawal.
Wong’s release just a day later appeared to have buoyed protesters, who on Monday continued to gather near the legislature building to demand Lam’s resignation.
Returning to activism immediately after his release, Wong joined thousands of protesters as they were preparing to march from the demonstration zone near the legislature building to the chief executive’s office.
They sought a meeting with Lam to call for a retraction of the government’s labeling of protesters as ‘rioters,’ and for police to take responsibility for using excessive force in attempting to disperse protests on June 12, during which police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, causing over 80 civilians to incur injuries.
In 2014, protesters calling for universal suffrage camped out on the streets of Hong Kong’s main business district in Central for almost 3 months. The movement ended without the protesters’ demands being met, while several of its main organizers were eventually jailed.
Speaking to reporters immediately after his release, Wong said he followed the latest developments while in prison. He saw Lam crying during a television broadcast in which she responded to public criticisms of her handling of the bill. “When she sheds tears, Hong Kong citizens are shedding blood [when police used force to disperse crowds on June 12].”
Wong also took the opportunity to pay his gratitude to supporters in Taiwan. “I hope my friends in Taiwan can continue to work hard. In the face of Beijing’s oppression, we will continue to work together.”
Speaking during Monday protests, he said that five years ago, Hong Kong people in the Umbrella Movement promised a comeback. “And now we finally did it.”
He vowed to continue advocating for broader government reforms. “This time, we have to win the battle more fundamentally. We will let the government see the power of the people.”
Frank Fang contributed to this report.